Critical Reflections: Tom Kirby - Light Passage

Winterowd Fine Art<br /> 701 Canyon Road, Santa Fe

Date June 30, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Publication THE magazine

Categories Performing Arts


Light behaves differently when it encounters a Tom Kirby painting. A luminous glow hovers over the surface of the paint, even as subtle layers of light form the substance of the work itself, like veils. Under various sources-bright sun, candle flame, an art dealer's dimmer switch-the piece will markedly change character and mood, becoming almost another piece entirely. Kirby has distilled his understanding of paint to an understanding of light.

These large abstract works, on canvas and linen, fascinate both eye and mind with their subtle gradations of sheen, texture, and hue. Over a strong acrylic underpainting, Kirby layers up to thirty washes of thin, transparent oil glazes. In some, ground metallic particles cause optical interference, creating a violet iridescence jumping beyond the painting's surface.

The shades of eggplant in The Temple Restored II might appear gray, deep blue, purple, or even (in full sun) white. Glazes crack, forming fissures that expose the layers underneath. In some areas, the glazes are delicate enough to amplify the weave of the canvas where Kirby sands them back. Passages of texture hint at cloud formations, imparting a sense of the vastness of sky, or of the shimmer of earth and atmosphere at dawn.

The large Fate II deserves from us the time and stillness that we would give a Rothko. Kirby's father, Thomas Sr., studied directly with Rothko, but the obvious influence skipped a generation. Kirby's layers of color and luminosity create a resonance that stirs something inside us, something exquisitely silent, transcendent.

Beginning at the top edge, the colors of Fate II grade from red to violet to blood orange to persimmon, fading out to white. Within the white-hot fire, bubbles of glaze pop in effervescence, lifting upward. In this piece and others, column-like bands anchor the outer edges of the composition, even as they fall right off the canvas. Such architectonic references invoke the walls of ancient structures peeling and crumbling, or the patina of rust on sheets of metal. They advance or recede, depending on the angle of illumination. Ascent and descent, advance and retreat, solidity and ether. Object + time + light.

Kirby describes a painting as a "summation of events."€ All the factors that make up the painting-the afternoons he spent layering the canvas, the works that came before these in his artistic evolution, his travels to see the architecture of Rome and Istanbul-all come together, resolve spontaneously, in an instant. Says Kirby,

"The moment when light falls upon the surface of the painting is also the moment when the painting is complete."€